BELGRADE -- The Arlee Scarlets are far from alone. It's a crowded club, those victimized by the Belt Huskies in recent years.
Arlee became the latest on a long list as Class C's golden program clinched its fifth State C girls' basketball championship in the past six seasons. The Huskies, who have played in the Saturday evening medal matchups for 10 consecutive years, rolled to gold by a 62-33 final score.
There's no absolute definition for a sports dynasty, but the Belt girls' inclusion in that category is inarguable.
“It gets more special every year,” Belt coach Jeff Graham said. “People don’t understand how tough it is. It’s just so tough. A lot of pressure on these kids. It’s a special group.”
The onslaught started from the opening tip-off at the Belgrade Special Events Center. Belt (26-1) won it, flipped the ball up to Dani Urick who was hustling toward the basket and Arlee fouled her as she went in for the layup. Urick calmly sunk both free throws with just 7 seconds of game time expired, the start of a flood of scoring.
Belt repeated its remarkable feat from the night before when the Huskies jumped to a 10-0 lead. That first occurred in Friday's semifinal against Twin Bridges, a 67-45 victory, but they did one better against the Scarlets. The Huskies led 12-0 before 5 minutes had rolled off the clock.
"They run that dribble drive really effectively and they pass really well," Arlee coach Bill Stockton said. "Fundamentally that's the big thing. They don't turn the ball over a lot."
While Belt has become a mainstay in the title game, Arlee's silver trophy marked its best finish since the same in 1980. Arlee last won gold in 1979.
A second-place finish, Arlee's first trophy in 37 years, is a great accomplishment. It can be hard to remember that in the moment, though.
"I know that we made our community proud," said an emotional Alyssia Vanderburg, Arlee's leading scorer with 18 points. "It makes me really happy that I could be a part of bringing a state (trophy) back to everyone. It's disappointing, but it's better than not placing at state."
Arlee's run to the final night of the season looked unlikely if you remember the way the year began. The Scarlets lost their first three outings and were sitting at 3-4 a month into the season. Then came a 14-game winning streak and second-place finish at the Western C Divisional, which propelled Arlee to state for a second straight year after having not reached the tournament since 1982.
"At the beginning of the year we were still trying to figure out who we were as a team, and I think a lot of people never would have guessed that we'd be in this game," Stockton said. "It says a lot about how hard the girls worked and what they were able to overcome."
The Scarlets (20-6) channeled that same mindset at the onset of the second quarter after trailing 17-4 through one. Vanderburg went to work, scoring nine of her team's 11 points in the second. But Arlee could do no better than match Belt shot for shot. The Huskies refused to yield.
By the third quarter, Belt was doubling up Arlee on the scoreboard and the team's bench began itching for another championship celebration.
Scoring for Arlee was hard to find if it wasn't coming out of Vanderburg's hands. No other Arlee player had more than four points and the District 14-C champions shot 28.6 percent (10-35) overall from the field.
Meanwhile Belt was blazing around the net. The perennial champs made a whopping 62.5 percent (25-40) of their attempts. Urick shot 8 of 9 by herself and totaled 23 points.
Arlee will graduate three seniors, all of whom stand 5-foot-11 or taller and two of which started this season. But Vanderburg leads a deep and talented rising-junior class that has its mind set one thing after tasting Saturday's sourness.
"(Belt is) really good, but I'm glad I got a chance to play against them," she said. "We'll be back next year, I know that."